Futsal and me: top footballers share their love

As the UEFA Futsal Champions League resumes, we hear from a series of top stars whose love for the indoor game shines bright.

Lionel Messi in action
Lionel Messi in action AFP via Getty Images

The UEFA Futsal Champions League finals take centre stage in Barcelona this week after a pause of 11 months.

Originally scheduled for April, the competition was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and although this weekend’s action will take place behind closed doors, fans can tune in live via UEFA.tv as two Spanish sides will meet two Russian sides in the semi-finals: hosts Barça play KPRF and Murcia meet Tyumen.

Among the audience will no doubt be a sizeable number of European football’s top players, past and present, with plenty of stars having confessed their love for the indoor game which gained popularity in South America before spreading to Europe.

Barcelona's Philippe Coutinho discussed his love for the game ahead of the finals this week, so we decided to showcase a few more futsal admirers who have achieved big things on the 11-a-side pitch…

Andrey Arshavin – retired Russia international

“I used to play futsal myself at university and in the St Petersburg championship, so I am interested. I like the fact more goals are scored than in 11-a-side football. I also like it when players perform unconventional tricks.

“There is so little space and so many one-on-one situations that you need to have good dribbling skills, good technique and to be quick on the ball. Futsal develops those qualities. Everything happens in a split-second on a tiny bit of the court. It's no coincidence that people who have played futsal tend to be quick and skilful.

Sporting CP  celebrate following their 2019 success in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
Sporting CP celebrate following their 2019 success in Almaty, Kazakhstan. UEFA via Sportsfile

“I came through the Smena Football Academy, and during the long winter months the academy's two halls with wooden floors were our home. We had futsal tournaments and I always liked to play because, as there are fewer players in futsal, there were more goals and dribbling opportunities. I liked it a lot. But whenever you play on the street or in the yard, and there isn't much space, that's like futsal too.”

Daniel Alves – Brazil international

“I had the pleasure of playing futsal at school, and what futsal gives you is intelligence, it's a thinking game. Why? Because you have a small space where man-marking is intense, so you have to be intelligent, and be very quick in your thinking and your movements.

“I think that normally if somebody is successful in futsal, he can be successful in football as well, because you'll find yourself with more free space to play and with more possibilities to choose from. People who are intelligent in football have a ten-fold advantage over everyone else.”

Bebeto – retired Brazil international

“Futsal is played in a small space, right? You learn agility, ability, quick thinking – futsal gives you all of that. I played futsal and football, together, and that improved my skills and my ability to think and decide quickly. Futsal is good for that.

Action from the 2019 final.
Action from the 2019 final.UEFA via Sportsfile

It gives you a great skill base, quick thinking and acceleration in the tight spaces. That's why here in Brazil we always start with futsal before going on to the pitch. This is very important without a doubt.”

Steven Berghuis – Netherlands international

"If I hadn't become a football player I would have become a futsal player. I played a lot when I was younger until I became a professional and couldn't fit them both in anymore. I would have been a futsal player in the amateur leagues."

Douglas Costa – Brazil international

"I started playing aged ten and stopped at 15, but it helped my development – especially trying to get out of small spaces when you are man-marked and with no time to spare," he says.

“Doing everything quickly, that's what I try to do on the field today, that's what I learned from futsal. The way you have to move in futsal also impresses me."

Hulk – Brazil international

“I played some futsal when I was [young]. Anyone who plays futsal a lot will end up showing what they have learned on the football pitch too. There are some tactical moves in futsal which are much more difficult to break out from, but when you have some experience in futsal it ends up being easier.

“I think the fans love futsal because of the smaller pitch, you're closer to goal although the goal is a bit smaller, but I think that it's the number of goals that makes the fans enthusiastic.

[Playing futsal, I learned] control of the ball, the way you dominate the ball. In futsal the ball always comes faster, it has more speed, and you have to have more agility to be able to immediately break out of a play or marking, so that helps a lot on the [football] pitch.”

Neymar is among futsal's many admirers, having begun playing in his native Brazil as a child.
Neymar is among futsal's many admirers, having begun playing in his native Brazil as a child.©Getty Images

Lionel Messi – Argentina international

“As a little boy in Argentina, I played futsal on the streets and for my club. It was tremendous fun, and it really helped me become who I am today.”

Neymar Jr – Brazil international

“Futsal helps a lot because you need to think quickly. It's a more dynamic game and today in Europe, there's not much space so you need to think quicker and futsal has helped me a lot with that. Futsal is one of my passions. I always loved to play, but unfortunately I had to stop to progress on the football pitch.”

Ronaldo – retired Brazil international

“I needed extremely good feet, because you're always attempting to beat opponents in the minimum of space. I loved the challenge of playing on such a small pitch.”

Cristiano Ronaldo – Portugal international

“During my childhood in Portugal, all we played was futsal. The small playing area helped me improve my close control, and whenever I played futsal I felt free. If it wasn't for futsal, I wouldn't be the player I am today."

Cristiano Ronaldo used futsal to improve his game.
Cristiano Ronaldo used futsal to improve his game.©Getty Images

Clarence Seedorf – retired Netherlands international

“It played a role in my youth – we were almost obliged to play futsal, because it helps you think faster, it helps you with ball control, it helps you playing in small spaces. In Brazil, it is the most normal thing in the world, everybody plays it, and that's why they have the elevated individual technical skills.”

Dejan Stanković – retired Serbia international

"When I look back at my own football career, I can honestly say it started with futsal, though at the time it was simply street football or football in the school playground.

“I've also been lucky enough to come up against leading futsal players in Serbia and Italy, and they are truly football masters – grandmasters, even. If you want to be a great futsal player, you have to know how to use the ball in a confined space sometimes the size of a coin. The action is often amazing and tends to produce brilliant goals.”

Willian – Brazil international

“I played growing up in my city in Brazil. It was very important for me. You have to do things quickly and think quickly, so everything is fast, and it helped a lot when I went to play football.

“Not only me, but a lot of players growing up in Brazil stared in futsal before playing football. There are a lot of players in Brazil now that like to play futsal. Falcao, who is retired now, was one of the best and was very important for me.”

Axel Witsel – Belgium international

My dad played football - not at a high level like first division, a smaller division in Belgium - so I was always at his game, every weekend. And he played futsal also in the first division in Belgium for 12 years. At the beginning, I was more interested in playing futsal than football.

“It helps you because it's more about technique at the beginning than football. I was always watching my dad and then playing on the futsal pitch indoors. And also the street, because I was always playing outside with my friends. I think futsal and the street help you a lot technically."

The UEFA Futsal Champions League trophy.
The UEFA Futsal Champions League trophy.

Xavi – retired Spain international

“In futsal, you see whether a player is really talented. In normal football you don't necessarily identify talent as easily because it's so much more physical. But with futsal, you notice the small details in quality, class and tactical understanding."

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